By Laura Friesen
“This is the scared part of our lives, the part that doesn’t know what to do”
I’m assigned to interview Winnipeg band iansucks, but tracking them all down and getting them in one room is a little tricky: Emma’s away at school in Australia,and David’s out of town right now. With some patience and only mild schedule-finagling, I do end up meeting in person with drummer and songwriter Ian Ellis at the Good Will, where bassist David Schellenberg and keyboardist Kelly Beaton pop in periodically when work is slow to add their two cents.
I quickly get the sense that Ian’s reticent and carefully considered thoughtfulness (his sense of self-deprecation is basically where the name iansucks came from) makes talking about the band way harder than being in the band – writing and playing songs and bringing them to life is the easy part. I arrive to the interview having listened to the album they have up on their Bandcamp, Boring Stuff Go Away, which is a collaboration between Ian and singer/songwriter Emma Mayer from back in 2014 before David and Kelly joined.
Those recordings are charmingly homemade and awkward and cautious. They excellently capture the weirdness and not-knowing-ness of not being a kid and not being an adult. The undercurrent running through all these songs is ‘what now?’ When we chat, Ian confirms this. Instead of talking at length about specific goals for the band or what the songwriting process is like, we instead end up ruminating on the weird scariness of finding something in your life that’s fun and fulfilling, and knowing that it’s probably not the responsible adult path to take. That can also delay the feeling that you’re an adult who somehow has all the answers, or at least the solutions to some of your problems.
“This is the scared part of our lives, the part that doesn’t know what to do,” Ian explains. He and Emma have found a way to make that uncertainty about life into something they can rely on: namely, the band. When we talked about work/life/school/band balance, he mentioned that this is the most fun part of his life. “If this is the one thing that’s fun, you’d do it whether it’s good or bad for you.”
It’s easy to tell that having a way to express things that a lot of people are hesitant to talk about – fears, hurt feelings, insecurity – is important to Ian. The stakes are high. I was wondering how the songwriting partnership of him and Emma came about and how they’re able to be so open with one another. Turns out they’d been friends long before starting the band.
Emma and I emailed as well, and her equally thoughtful insights on the band and her relationship to it follow.
Stylus: Where does your impulse to write songs come from? How long have you been doing this?
Emma Mayer: My impulses to write songs come from boredom a lot of the time, or frustration or sadness. Usually I write songs to distract myself from something else I am supposed to be doing, like homework. I think that’s how most have started. I’ve only really been seriously writing songs since I was about 19 or so and in terms of collaboration with Ian we only really started writing together about two years ago. Before that it kind of started as Ian having these songs that he wanted somebody else to sing on or play a violin part on, and so I would just come to his house and sing or play whatever part he had written for me. It was just kind of a fun casual thing to do as part of our friendship. Eventually Ian had all of these songs that he wanted to release on an album and so we came up with a title and looked through my sketchbook for a drawing to use as our album art. I think of the first album as mostly Ian’s creation because I didn’t even really know he was thinking of putting out an album at all until he was like ‘hey, is it cool if I release this online?’
Stylus: What are your songs about? What do you prefer to write about?
EM: I think a lot of our older songs are about being sad, or tired, or songs to fall asleep to. Some of them were about being happy and in love, like “Fire” that Ian wrote, but I think the older ones are mostly about bad feelings we didn’t know how to deal with. On our new album (which I hope is coming out this summer) and the songs that people hear us play at our shows are a bit more upbeat and happy feeling. I think we like to characterize ourselves as a ‘sad band,’ but I’m not sure our sound really reflects that – the content of the songs might, though. In terms of songs we’ve written in the last year or so they have been about a bunch of different things like sitting in a Robin’s Donuts after the end of a relationship, crying, and cute dogs. We write a lot about about relationships and love and depression. They are mostly about personal experiences, I guess. I think generally we write about our feelings or things we don’t want to talk about. So I guess that is a common theme. I would really like to write about happy feelings which I hope to do in the future. I think most of my old songs were written as ways to pass the time during times of intense depression. But I’m feeling happier lately so I hope my new songs can reflect that.
Stylus: What’s the relationship like between you and Ian in the band? Who takes on what roles, or how do you balance?
EM: We’re all really good friends, which makes practice and playing shows fun for us. We see each other almost every week (except for the last three months that I’ve been in Australia) – either at practice or at the Good Will or at each other’s houses. It’s really a blessing to be in a band with some of your best friends. Ian takes on the most responsibility out of all of us. He is always writing and arranging and recording music. He books most of our shows and handles all the business-y stuff. I do some of the songwriting and composing too. We all also pitch in at writing our own parts during practices to help round out songs.
Stylus: How do you feel about performing? How often do you perform? Is it a fun thing for you?
EM: Performing is something that really terrifies me but is also something that I really love doing. It scares me and Ian a lot, I think. We play shows maybe once a month generally and usually we get really nervous and overly critical but I think it’s really good for us to do it. We’re both pretty shy people, I guess so we don’t exactly seek out the spotlight very often otherwise. I think the only reason we actually started performing was that about a year ago Micah Visser asked if I wanted to open for him at the Purple Room but I was too scared to play a set alone so I made Ian put together a band for us so we could play iansucks songs together. So that’s how Kelly and David ended up joining us. They are both very calm and collected and professional when it comes to performing so that really helps us I think.
Stylus: Has the band dynamic changed since Kelly and David joined?
EM: Before Kelly and David, it felt more like we were just producing music in our bedrooms – we didn’t have a setup that would enable us to perform or anything. So I don’t know that we really were a band before Kelly and David, actually. I think if anything I feel more confident and positive since David and Kelly have joined. I think before them, Ian and I were more likely to nitpick and shut down our ideas. Now it’s kind of like we can throw our ideas out there and talk about them more objectively. We definitely accomplish a lot more now that we have them as part of our band.
Stylus: Is writing and performing and being in the band a release or catharsis of some kind? Or what kind of role does the band serve in your life?
EM: I would definitely say that being in the band is a big release in my life. Playing and performing and practicing is a really amazing outlet for frustrations and anxiety and really helps to pump us up. I think we all generally feel really good and revved up, if you will after, after practice. That’s definitely something I’ve really missed these last couple months that we’ve been on hiatus with me studying in Australia. I’m really looking forward to coming home to Winnipeg and playing music again.